Android phones and push-to-talk (PTT) phones don't have much in common. Android phones are for phone phreaks; PTT phones, in their usual industrial environment, are strictly utilitarian. Android phones are pretty, often dainty; PTT phones have to be banged-around tough and weatherproof (in other words, ugly) to stand up to the rigors of their typically rugged blue-color usage.
Motorola's i1, which I got my hands on during CTIA in Las Vegas, manages to bridge these design divides spectacularly. Not only is the i1 attractive, but it's also durable (or will be when it hits the market this summer from Sprint-Nextel). It conforms to military specifications for toughness — safe in the blowing rain (not total liquid immersion), and immune to dust, shock and vibration. As you can see in the video, it can be liberally tossed around without harm (not that you'd roll it like a pair of dice, but this seemed to be an appropriate test in Vegas).
A couple of oddities. First, the i1 runs Android v1.5, but there is no real Android enhancement to PTT, other than being able to access the varying call options (like switching from a Direct Connect to a normal network call) from touch menus instead of via the usual tedious click-though menu drilling. Second, the i1 only connects to iDEN's 2G network, not Sprint's consumer 3G network. But the i1's Opera Mini 5 HTML browser (which does Flash) doesn't seem unduly handicapped by the slower network connectivity.
According to Motorola most of the HTML-processing muscle is done in the cloud, which boosts page-load speeds to around 5-7 seconds during our play time — pretty fast considering the usual trade-show network clog. You can use i1's Wi-Fi connection to speed up Web access. And I love the trend away from lists of Web bookmarks to easier-to-spot icon thumbnails.
Otherwise, i1 acts like any other Android phone. Its 3.1-inch screen seems a bit small by today's standards, but with bright, pop-out colors. List scrolling is smooth and swift, and you can switch to haptic feedback for typing. For business use, you get Exchange Server connectivity, Microsoft Document Viewer and corporate sync, and three keyboard options: regular unaided Android, predictive text (XT9) and the new Swype entry, which I've been unable to get the hang of, but some people swear by it. To each their own.
The i1 not only looks good, it feels good, smooth front-and-back, rubberized for a sure grip around the perimeter, and weighing in at a surprisingly PTT-light 4.6 ounces. There's a latch on the right side that securely locks the battery cover. You get a 5MP camera with geotagging that seems to lag a bit between shutter release and capture, but the LED flash helps light up dimly lit subjects. Its battery is rated for just 3.5 hours, kind of short especially given its 2G connection.
Bizarrely, it's got a 2.5mm headphone jack. Does anyone even still make mono 2.5mm earphones? And if they do, why?
All in all, Motorola seems to have succeeded in building a phone that will satisfy smartphone-lite users and the blue-collar PTT crowd, the headphone jack notwithstanding.